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Looking at some projection disagreements

Five hitters on whom the projection systems can’t seem to agree.

MLB: Boston Red Sox-Media Day Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox are right in the swing of spring training, as the starting rotation is starting to get set on Saturday and the everyday players are beginning to get into a bit of a rhythm at the plate. Of course, as much as we want to apply meaning to spring training performances, we know well enough by now that we can’t tell much. There are hints about what could be coming down the road if you know what to look for, but generally speaking we (myself included) probably overblow spring performance. It’s just so tempting!

The smartest way to try and figure out what is going to happen in 2019 is honestly to just not even try. Baseball is going to surprise us every year. That’s just the way it work. If you really want to try and get a feel for who is going to do what in the upcoming season, though, projection systems are for you. As I and many others have said many times, no one is expecting these to be perfect. It’s just a guiding point based on carefully constructed algorithms by very smart people. Sometimes, the projection systems generally agree on what will happen in coming years, but there are times when the different systems have different ideas for how certain players will perform. So, stealing an idea from our sister site Pinstripe Alley, let’s take a quick look at a handful of hitters on whom three projection systems (ZiPS, Steamer and PECOTA) can’t agree.

Dustin Pedroia

ZiPS OPS: .705

Steamer OPS: .733

PECOTA OPS: .769

It’s not too much of a surprise that there would be a fair amount of disparity when trying to project Dustin Pedroia. The veteran second baseman and former AL MVP has played in only 108 games over the last two years, including only three in 2018. He’s coming off a major knee injury and entering his age-35 season at a position that does not traditionally age well. That’s a lot of question marks! Even the most optimistic projection isn’t really expecting Pedroia to get back to his old levels, as a .769 OPS would be the third lowest of his career. It’s probably safest to keep expectations low and hold out for a pleasant surprise if he does reach that PECOTA level.

Rafael Devers

ZiPS OPS: .800

Steamer OPS: .805

PECOTA OPS: .763

Here we don’t have major disagreement between all three of the systems, with ZiPS and Steamer projecting essentially the same OPS from Boston’s young third baseman in 2019. However, PECOTA doesn’t see the same kind of breakout from Devers, instead seeing a modest 32-point improvement compared to 2018. Devers is a very popular breakout pick in 2019, and I would certainly take the over on PECOTA’s projection here. It’s worth noting, though, that Baseball Prospectus’ system is generally more conservative than other systems. That can be frustrating, but it’s a good reminder that not every popular breakout pick is actually going to work out. That said, Devers is totally going to work out.

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Boston Red Sox Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Pearce

ZiPS OPS: .779

Steamer OPS: .815

PECOTA OPS: .767

A lot of the projection for Pearce would, I’d assume, have to do with what kind of role he’s going to play in 2019. The veteran first baseman is traditionally a platoon bat who mashes lefties, and if the vast majority of his at bats in the coming year are with a southpaw on the mound, I’ll take the over on possibly all of these projections. However, I think it’s likely he takes a good chunk of at bats against righties as well, and while he’s just fine against them it would still bring down his overall projection. The difficult thing for projection systems here is that Pearce is going to turn 36 shortly after the regular season begins and he’s coming off the second best season of his career. Generally, you can’t expect that to keep up at his age, but watching him last year and knowing his playing time will be managed well I think he has a better chance than an algorithm would give him.

Mitch Moreland

ZiPS OPS: .733

Steamer OPS: .767

PECOTA OPS: .746

I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a more uniform opinion from the computers on what Moreland would do in the coming year. While he can be very inconsistent month-to-month, running hot and cold throughout the year, his end-of-season production is roughly the same every year. His career OPS is .757 and he’s been within 12 points of that mark in each of his two years with Boston. I’ll put my money on another year right around the league-average for the Red Sox left-handed first baseman, which would likely put him right around the midpoint between Steamer and PECOTA.

Eduardo Núñez

ZiPS OPS: .717

Steamer OPS: .743

PECOTA OPS: .727

Here is it worth noting that projection systems don’t really know about injury, but only know of the affects of the injury on the statsheet. That’s not to say Eduardo Núñez recovering from injury is the only reason he struggled in 2018, but I think it’s fair to posit it was at least a factor. It’s also worth mentioning that, prior to 2018, he had three straight seasons with an OPS of at least .758. Even the most optimistic projection is not confident he can get back to that level. I’m not sure he’ll get all the way back there either, but I think I’ll take Steamer’s projection here over the others.